Half crime drama, half character study, Starz new series Hightown takes a dark, morally shaded genre usually populated by men and hands it to a woman. Created by showrunner Rebecca Cutter, that woman is jaded, fast-living National Marine Fisheries Service agent Jackie Quinones (Monica Raymund), whose hedonistic Provincetown lifestyle is thrown into disarray when she discovers a body in Cape Cod Bay, the apparent victim of the area’s opioid crisis.
Speaking during Deadline’s Contenders Television virtual event, Cutter revealed that, aside from some autobiographical touches that came from her own personal association with the Cape Cod area, the initial inspiration for the show was the character of Jackie herself.
“She’s this woman who’s really sort of unabashedly sexual, owns it, and doesn’t give a sh*t,” said Cutter. “We always joke that she’s the mayor of P-town in her mind, at least at the beginning of the pilot. She’s really un-self-aware, and I think that’s incredibly refreshing—to see somebody whose great appeal to other people is how few f*cks she has to give. And a big part of her arc is becoming self-aware and realizing the areas that are self destructive and realizing that [deep down] she does care.”
For Raymund, the physical aspects of playing Jackie were as demanding as the emotional requirements. “I had to learn what [being a fisheries agent] was,” she explained, “so we did a lot of talking. Rebecca again, has a lot of experience in [that area]. I got to ride along boats and learn how to dock. I had to learn a lot of technical things, but I also had to shed a lot of my emotional spirit and I had to kind of dig in there. And, yeah, it was very messy.”
Finding a way to balance the character’s inner and exterior life was crucial to the show’s director, Rachel Morrison, who was Oscar nominated for her work as director of photography on 2018’s Mudbound. “One of the things that I pitched from the beginning is that this should be just a very inherently subjective experience,” she said. “And I think it helps—you feel like you’re in this world, living in another person’s shoes.”
Check out the panel video above.